First off I hope that all of Birdland had a great Valentine’s Day – I know I did, as I spent the evening watching Maryland defeat Penn State. A Terps’ victory on the anniversary of one of the most famous mafia hits of all time – a good omen for any local Italian-American such as myself, right?! Nevertheless there was one aspect of the game that drew me into thinking about the Baltimore Orioles given the fact that this was a very close game…
…and that’s something that the Big Ten Network broadcast crew seemed to harp on down the stretch in the second half. PSU had suffered several vicious losses in the waning moments of games over the course of the season, including ten days ago in College Park (a game that I myself attended). Maryland on the other hand has a few close wins in their resume, including a game a few days ago against Indiana.
I’ve long said that the concept of knowing how to win close games is “a thing” in sports, and an important one at that. For all of the years that the Orioles seemingly flailed in the wind, it seemed like they were just cursed when it came to close games at times. Now on one hand, the quality of some of those bullpens was fairly poor. However that combined with what seemingly appeared to be the pressure of playing in close games would generally take it’s toll on the O’s.
The best example of this ironically wasn’t even a close game – look no further than the Mother’s Day Massacre at Fenway in 2007 when the O’s blew a 5-1 lead in the last of the ninth. I’m the first one to admit that’s a fluky type of thing, and furthermore if you played that exact scenario back once again in the exact same manner odds are the O’s come out in the win column.
Photo: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
But the fact remains that there is a certain skill involved in coming through with the chips on the table. The O’s didn’t have that in them at that time; in fact they probably didn’t have that in them for the better part of 14 years. However things began to change when Buck Showalter took the helm. And I would submit that this team started to learn how to win close games on the final day of the 2011 season when they beat the BoSox to keep them out of the post season.
I’m the first one to admit that if I were an athlete, I probably wouldn’t have the skills necessary to compete and win in close games. I’ve choked in gut-check moments more times than I care to admit in my life. But in the sports realm sometimes all it takes is a steady hand to take that pressure away, and that’s probably what Buck Showalter was able to do. Whereas previously you could almost see the players on the field wondering aloud how they’d end up blowing the game, now that’s often seen written on opposing teams’ faces.